The Jenner Headlands is within our grasp!

 The Jenner Headlands is a spectacular 5,630-acre coastal ranch, described by Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Reilly as being the “whole tiara” among a string of jewels along the coast. After nearly four years of complex negotiations, the Sonoma Land Trust has secured a contract with the landowners to purchase the Jenner Headlands. This will be the single largest conservation land acquisition in Sonoma County history. Located north of the town of Jenner where the Russian River flows into the Pacific Ocean, and extending north along scenic Highway 1 and inland toward the town of Cazadero, this stunning coastal property offers dramatic views, redwood forests, multiple watersheds, fish-bearing streams, abundant wildlife, and more — including the opportunity to provide public access and a 2.5 mile segment to the California Coastal Trail. Without protection, the Jenner Headlands could be subdivided into more than 40 home sites. “It’s very rare to be able to save such a large and diverse landscape along the coast,” said Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust. “We can’t let this opportunity get away.”

Four years in the making

In 2005, Supervisor Reilly suggested that the landowners consider a conservation sale of the property as an alternative to development, and convened a group of nonprofit organizations and public agencies to work on the project. The Sonoma Land Trust took the lead, working closely with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. “When we began working on this project four years ago, everyone assumed that a public agency would acquire and manage the land,” said Benson. “But no public agency is positioned to do so today. The Land Trust decided to step in and take title so we wouldn’t lose this now-or-never opportunity to protect such a large and magnificent coastal landscape. It will probably be several years before a public agency is able to take responsibility for it. When that happens we would like to turn over a well-planned, well-managed unit.” The purchase price for the property is $36 million. This is based on extensive negotiations and an independent appraisal reviewed by our multiple public funding partners, including the Open Space District, State Coastal Conservancy, California Wildlife Conservation Board, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (which ranked the project #3 in the nation for funding). Early support for the project came from Petaluma’s Tellabs Foundation. We have preliminary commitments for all of the funding needed to purchase the property. What remains is raising the money needed to responsibly manage and care for the property. We need to raise an additional $2 million by the time of closing.

Goals and ecological resource values

Once known as the Rule Ranch, this coastal property was purchased by John Rule in 1867 and has been used as a cattle and sheep ranch since then. The Land Trust and its partners have multiple goals for the Jenner Headlands — first and foremost, the land will be managed to enhance its significant ecological values. The Jenner Headlands is home to numerous endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl, red tree vole, osprey, peregrine falcon, bank swallow, steelhead trout and Coho salmon. Wide-ranging deer, coyote, bobcat, fox and mountain lion also frequent the property. Protecting a large landscape like this, which also connects to existing open lands, provides secure wildlife corridors and habitat that will help all species adapt to the unpredictable effects of climate change. There are eight different watersheds on the property, including Jenner Gulch, which provides the domestic water supply for the town of Jenner.The property also includes a 3,100-acre redwood and Douglas fir forest that has been managed as forestland for the last 100 years. One of the primary objectives is to grow the forest older through sustainable forestry, which will help attain the ecological goals faster and provide income to supplement the costs of managing the property — with the added benefit of supporting the local economy. Cattle grazing has taken place on the land for decades and is expected to continue in order to maintain the health of the coastal prairie. “Sonoma Land Trust has a lot of experience managing lands for ecological purposes, and successful conservation forestland projects exist that demonstrate that our multiple goals for the Jenner Headlands can be met,” said Amy Chesnut, SLT acquisitions director who has managed the project from the outset. “We want to grow the forest older and healthier; we want to protect the estuary, creeks and the town of Jenner’s water supply; we want to keep the wonderful coastal prairie intact; and we want people to hike on the property and enjoy the ocean scenery. The ecosystem on the property is diverse and healthy, and we have an excellent opportunity to manage these lands to reach all of our goals — ecological, economical and recreational.” “This magnificent addition to our network of protected coastal lands — the headlands to the mouth of our region’s major river as it meets the sea — is an opportunity not to be lost,” said Bill Kortum, former Sonoma County supervisor and Land Trust co-founder. “Stunning views, abundant wildlife and a vital link to the California Coastal Trail are within our grasp.”

Next steps

The Sonoma Land Trust needs to raise $2 million over the next few months in hopes of closing on the property in early 2009. During the first 12 months of ownership, the Land Trust will conduct resource assessments that will guide the development of a management plan for the property. Arrangements will be made to provide public access as soon as possible. “On clear days, the views from the Headlands extend all the way to Point Reyes and Mt. Diablo,” said Supervisor Reilly. “Protecting land like this is like unearthing buried treasure — now this coastal jewel can sparkle for the whole world to see.”